quarta-feira, 23 de janeiro de 2013

Sony Xperia Tablet Z Preview: A new standard for tablets

Sony has just officially announced a new tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z. Many Android tablets today look very alike to each other, and it's not very common to see a tablet with a very distinguishing feature, but this can't be said to the Tablet Z. As you'll see, it is extremely thin and light. In fact, it is revolutionarily thin and light, and these features are really distinguished from any other tablet out there. It's also impressive because high-resolution displays usually translate into thicker and heavier tablets, due to the higher demand that these displays have. However, the Xperia Tablet Z can keep its remarkably thin and light design, while still using a high resolution 1080p display. Funnily, Sony has never made any very noteworthy tablets, in my opinion, and so it came to me as a surprise that a major design innovation would come from them. At any rate, the Xperia Tablet Z is Sony's first tablet that is generally flawless, at least on paper. It excels in terms of design, display, camera, and also in performance. The only major flaw I can sense this tablet might have is that Sony might have made the battery smaller to compensate on the thickness and weight, and with a demanding display like this one, maybe battery life will be very compromised. Of course, this is just a theory of mine, unsupported by any evidence, so it may be completely wrong. At any rate, you can check the full specifications for the Xperia Tablet Z here.


The display of the Xperia Tablet Z is not an award-winning screen, but it is surely one of the best. The resolution is very high, at 1920 x 1200 pixels, and with the display size being a standard 10.1", the resulting pixel density was 224ppi, considerably lower than the iPad's 264ppi and the Nexus 10's 299ppi, but its still much crisper than many tablets out there (the majority being 149ppi), and should be a delight to look at. For reference, it should have the same crispness as the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. Aside from that, it's an LED-backlit display, with a new Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2, which enhances the display's vibrance. This is also the first tablet to be dust and water proof, hence enhancing the tablet's durability. 


While the Xperia Tablet Z has an array of noteworthy features, probably the most eye-catching feature is its remarkably thin design. The Tablet Z sports a design with very squared edges, with a pretty wide bezel, with a Sony logo placed on the top left of the bezel. On the back, you get a very simplistic, all-black (or all-white) casing, with an Xperia logo on the center. One strange flaw of this tablet it that the rear camera is placed on the very top right edge, where your hand would usually be if you use the tablet in landscape mode. This, I think, is a very awkward positioning for a camera, and ruins the entire design of the tablet. Last but definitely not least, the tablet is just about the thinnest tablet in the world, measuring just 6.9mm thickness, which is actually even thinner than the iPad mini, and its weight is also very distinguished: 495g, 30g lighter than the previous owner of the "thinnest tablet" title, the ASUS VivoTab RT. The iPad 4's 652g looks like a brick compared to the Tablet Z. The Tablet Z seems to the the one to beat in terms of design for 2013, I wonder how quick will other manufacturers be to catch up to this new standard.


I consider the SoC (System-on-Chip) inside the Xperia Tablet Z to be the third strongest current SoC available (not counting upcoming SoCs like the Tegra 4, Exynos Octa or Snapdragon 600/800), which is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064 chipset, and is only generally outperformed by the Exynos 5250 and the Apple A6X. Yes, this is the same Snapdragon S4 Pro that powers the almighty Nexus 4. This Snapdragon S4 iteration packs four custom Krait cores ticking at 1.5GHz, plus an Adreno 320 GPU. This SoC, aside from delivering very good performance, also promises extensive battery life, since the Krait architecture is designed for lower power consumption than other ARM-based CPUs and also because the S4 is built on the newest 28nm process. The S4 Pro is relatively new to the market, and I believe this will be the first tablet shipping with this SoC, however, the end of 2012 has seen a very fast growth in competition in terms of compute power in both the Android and the iOS platforms, referring to the Exynos 5250 and the Apple A6X, and as a result of that, the Snapdragon S4 Pro collapsed from the top of benchmark charts. Actually, its CPU power still remains the second best, with its performance being more than the Dual Swift cores in the Apple A6X, but less than the Quad Cortex-A15 cores in the Exynos 5250. Still, being only outperformed slightly by the Exynos 5250, the S4 Pro still has the second best CPU on the mobile world. Unfortunately the same can't be said for the GPU, which is where Android devices usually fail. Before Q4 2012, the Adreno 320 GPU was at the top of GLBenchmark's charts, outperforming both the iPhone 5 and the iPad 3 by a tangible amount. But then came along the iPad 4 with its PowerVR SGX554MP4, which stole the Adreno 320's crown as top performer, and then came the Mali-T604 in the Nexus 10 and pushed the Nexus 4's Adreno 320 GPU to third place. There is a tangible difference between the Apple A6X and the Snapdragon S4 in terms of GPU performance, but still, the Adreno 320 is an excellent performer, and should be more than enough for any mobile gamer, maybe even for quite some time in the future. Plus, the Xperia Tablet Z has the lowest resolution in comparison to the Nexus 10 and the iPad 4, which neutralizes slightly the performance gap between these devices' GPUs and the Tablet Z. So, basically, the Xperia Tablet Z is a performance powerhouse, and should provide a lag-free experience on both UIs and in (most, at least) games. 

The Xperia Tablet Z also has an 8MP rear camera, which can record 1080p video, and, surprisingly, a front-facing camera of 2.2MP which can also shoot 1080p video. The tablet will come with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean out of the box, but naturally I suspect an Android 4.2 update should come shortly after the tablet's launch. Well, it seems like there is a lot to look forward to with the Xperia Tablet Z, which is obviously a huge step forward in comparison to the company's last attempt at a tablet, the Xperia Tablet S. 

sábado, 12 de janeiro de 2013

CES 2013: Samsung announces Exynos 5 Octa

At CES 2013, we've had some very big SoC announcements. NVIDIA has unveiled its next-gen Tegra 4 chipset, Qualcomm has announced new Snapdragon SoCs (200, 400, 600 and 800), along with new CPU architectures (Krait 300 and 400). Among this tight competition, we have Samsung announcing the next iteration of the Exynos series of SoCs, the Exynos 5 Octa. Yes, when we hear "Octa", we think it's a contender to Intel Core-i7 processors, but performance-wise, it's just as good as a quad-core ARM processor. That is because the Exynos Octa is the first chipset to use ARM's big.LITTLE technology, which is why four of those eight cores are Cortex-A15 cores, running at up to 1.8GHz (slightly less than the 1.9GHz that the Tegra 4's four Cortex-A15 cores run at), which are for use in more demanding situations, while the other four cores are actually low power/performance Cortex-A7 cores, for use when the workload is light, and when Cortex-A15 performance is not necessary. This means that, in situations when the device is, for example, idle, the Cortex-A15 cores can be power gated, and the low power Cortex-A7 cores can do all the processing, thus dramatically extending battery life. The concept is very similar to the 4-PLUS-1 architecture created by NVIDIA in Tegras 3 & 4.

The Exynos 5 Octa will also be upgrading to a better process, since it will be built on 28nm HKMG process, as opposed to the 32nm HKMG process that older Exynos chipsets used. This should help to further improve the thermals and power consumption of the SoC, and will bring it up to scratch with NVIDIA's and Qualcomm's 28nm weaponry. There should also be a bump in GPU performance to keep the Exynos series competitive, but there's still no info on that.

The Exynos 5 Octa doesn't bring anything really revolutionary to the SoC world, but it does refresh the series to match or maybe even outperform the competition. It is expected that the new SoC will make its debut in either the Galaxy S IV or maybe a new Galaxy Note iteration.

quarta-feira, 9 de janeiro de 2013

CES 2013: NVIDIA officially announces Tegra 4 'Wayne' and a gaming portable named Project SHIELD

NVIDIA has just recently announced the successor to the company's successful SoC, the Tegra 3, at CES 2013. The new NVIDIA Tegra 4, codenamed 'Wayne', is certainly a very promising SoC, and is expected to push the performance envelope for mobile performance much further. Aside from the SoC, NVIDIA has also announced its first 3G/4G modem, to be used together with the Tegra 4, the Icera i500. To wrap it up, NVIDIA also announced its first ever handheld console, the Project SHIELD, which, apart from introducing a very original and unusual form factor, is also the first handheld console to be able to stream game content from a PC with a GeForce GTX 600 series GPU (or later, I presume). Yes, that means Black Ops 2 on a 5" device. SHIELD can also be used to play games streamed from a cloud game service provider, with the GeForce GRID technology. NVIDIA has announced a real lot of stuff at CES 2013, so let's break it down in pieces, starting with Project SHIELD.

In terms of design, Project SHIELD is basically a traditional videogame controller with a 5" display attached in front of it. The display resolution is 1280 x 720 (16:9 aspect ratio), which means that the pixel density should be roughly around the 300ppi range, which is actually very good. Fortunately, the handheld console will have expandable storage with a microSD card slot, and it also has a microHDMI output, for up to 4K display output. there is also a microUSB port on the device, for connecting to a PC and other devices. A 3.5mm audio jack will also be included, for connecting headphones, and, apart from Wi-Fi, connectivity options for SHIELD include Miracast. NVIDIA says that Project SHIELD is running "pure Android", which presumably means that we'll see completely stock Android OS, without any OEM customizations.

SHIELD can actually also act as any normal android device, given that it runs the full Android OS. NVIDIA's TegraZone app distinguishes itself by displaying games specifically optimized and enhanced for NVIDIA hardware, and hence improving (at least visual) gaming experience compared to its competitors. TegraZone will now also contain games that are specifically enhanced for the SHIELD.

NVIDIA is also using an app, similar to splashtop, to enable streaming of content from GeForce containing PCs to the SHIELD. This will be only possible if you have a GeForce GTX 600 series GPU, and, as I assume, all future iterations of the GeForce series. This can be very helpful for gaming on the SHIELD, because, like in splashtop, what happens is that all rendering is done by the PC's graphics card, streamed to the SHIELD, where the display is mirrored from the PC to the SHIELD. This means that you'll be able to play some very advanced games on the SHIELD, actually, pretty much any PC game can be played from the SHIELD. How would you like to play Black Ops 2 on the SHIELD? Like any other Android device, the SHIELD can also stream games from cloud-based gaming services, which should also be nice.

NVIDIA says that the SHIELD will be released in Q2 2013, and its pricing will be competitive compared to existing handheld consoles and tablets.

Of course, one of the main ingredients for good gaming experience is performance. Given that the SHIELD is intended for gaming, NVIDIA needed to optimize the gaming experience with some excellent performance, while keeping power consumption low enough for mobile standards. Well, considering that the SHIELD will be powered by the brand new NVIDIA Tegra 4 SoC, I'd say that performance won't be a concern or a limitation for the SHIELD.

The NVIDIA Tegra 4 is by far the largest leap the Tegra series has ever made. For starters, it fortunately optimizes thermals and improves power efficiency dramatically by moving from Tegra 3's (and 2's) 40nm process to a much more current 28nm HPL (28nm Low Power with High-K + Metal Gates). NVIDIA recycled and updated the 4-PLUS-1 CPU architecture used in Tegra 3. The CPU gets a very big architecture upgrade from the last-gen Tegra, since the CPU moves from a quad-core Cortex-A9 design to a much more efficient quad-core Cortex-A15 design. The companion core, which is a low power core, optimized for handling light workloads using very little battery, is now another regular Cortex-A15 core, just with very limited clock speeds. Clock speed also receives a bump, and is now up to an impressive 1.9GHz. The companion core is completely invisible to the OS and Apllications. NVIDIA also finally decided to make an acceptable memory interface, this time opting for a maximum of two 32-bit DDR3L channels, on par with the Samsung Exynos 5250 and the Apple A6X. 

The GPU on the Tegra 4 is what gets the biggest bump. We still don't have any details on GPU architecture, but what we know is that the GPU core will consist of 72 shader cores, up from 12 cores in the Tegra 3. This is quite an impressive bump, and without any architecture and clock speed modifications since the Tegra 3, should result in 72 GFLOPS peak theoretical performance, almost certainly better than the Mali-T604 in the Exynos 5250 and almost on par with the Apple A6X's 77 GFLOPS capable PowerVR SGX554MP4 GPU (a little bump in clock rate would easily get the Tegra 4 past the A6X, and that is if the architecture remains unchanged). The new SoC will also enable for output to 4K displays, or output of 1080p content @ 120Hz, and will also enable for 1440p (2560 x 1440) video decode. Taking pictures will also improve a lot with the Tegra 4, given that the chip's ISP (Image Signal Processor) will use Super Speed Imaging to dramatically improve picture-taking. 

For the first time in Tegra history, the new Tegra 4 will be able to be implemented with an Icera i500 Soft Modem, owned by NVIDIA, which will finally enable for Tegra 4 to be used in 3G/4G LTE enabled devices. Looks like Qualcomm has just lost its major selling point. At any rate, we shall soon see how this amazing looking SoC fares among the existing SoC competition, and we'll see whether it survives the onslaught of competition arising together with it.